The New York Islanders are still one of the hottest teams in the league and stand a good chance at claiming the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Islanders have one of the best offenses in the NHL, scoring an average of 3.1 goals per game. The thing that is keeping the Islanders from running away with the Presidents’ Trophy is their goaltending. Unlike most teams, it isn’t the starting goaltending that is the problem, it is their backups that could cost them.
Chad Johnson was signed as a free agent after posting a great campaign with the Boston Bruins. He went 17-4-3 with two shutouts and allowed 53 goals. So far this season he has struggled as he has a 7-7-1 with a 3.08 goals against average and no shutouts. He has almost surpassed his goals allowed total from last year and he has played in 10 fewer games.
While the Bruins had a better defense than the Islanders do now, this year’s Islanders have a better offense than the Bruins had last year. This would explain the raise in his GAA but does not help explain his record.
Johnson has struggled against teams that would be in the playoffs. He has a record of 3-5-1 in those games, and two of those wins had to go to shootouts. Of the remaining games left on their schedule, nine of the 21 are against teams that would be in the playoffs if they started today.
The Islanders also have five more back-to-back series that they still need to play, so there will be a desperate need for a solid backup goaltender. Most of these back-to-back series include at least one game against teams that would be in the playoffs so New York can’t afford to lose too many of these games and retain their top spot in the division.
Most teams don’t have to worry about their backup goalie, but the New York Islanders may be one of them. The starting goalie, Jaroslav Halak has done a great job of providing stability for the Islanders. The problem with Halak though is that he isn’t used to working this hard. This will be the second most games played in Halak’s career after the 57 games he played in the 2010-11 season.
In this season though, Halak is on pace to set a new career high in minutes played. Typically Halak has split time more evenly when he was with the St. Louis Blues. Halak would play almost half of the time with Brian Elliott taking care of the other half. New York will most likely want to rest him down the stretch in order to keep him fresh in the playoffs.
The Islanders have one other option at goalie on the team and that was Kevin Poulin. Poulin started one game and lost in in a shootout, but has the same save percentage that Johnson has to this point. It’s hard to say that whether or not Poulin could have a chance to take over the backup role from Johnson, but it should be something the front office has to consider.
The other option at the backup goalie position would be if they go out and acquire one through trade. The trade deadline is in less than two weeks and there could be a couple of options they could explore. Some of the potential names that could be on the trading block include Cam Ward from Carolina, Michael Neuvirth from Buffalo and Jonathan Bernier form Toronto. The Islanders could, if they want, pick up one of these goalies, if they decide they have had enough from Johnson.
If the New York Islanders are to get that top seed in the East, they are going to the need some better playing from their goalie. That will either come from overworking Jaroslav Halak, or getting better production from their backup goalie. Whether that be Johnson, Poulin or a trade deadline pickup, the Islanders will want to make sure that they figure out the goaltending situation if they want to be a viable threat for one of the top seeds in the east. New York is currently one point behind the Montreal Canadians for the top spot in the East, but Montreal has two games in hand on them, so they can’t afford to lose too many games due to sloppy backup goaltending.